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Developing Sustainable Energy Solutions

Bill Auberle: PhD

Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineeering

College of Engineering, Forestry, and Natural Sciences

It's no secret that for students interested in learning about sustainable living and environmental practices, Northern Arizona University's "campus" extends far beyond its bricks and mortar. Bill Auberle, professor of civil environmental engineering and adviser to the Landsward Institute's energy programs, utilizes all the resources across the Colorado Plateau to teach his classes—and then some.

"I had the chance to take my students to a solar energy plant, a wind energy farm, and a large coal-fired power plant all in one day, to show how electricity is made and the environmental consequences of that," he says. "I take students to the Grand Canyon, where they have some of the most sophisticated environmental monitoring systems in the world—it's a great place for us to expose students to all environmental challenges."

It's also a perfect location to base the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, an organization established in 1992 to act as a catalyst among tribal governments, research, and technical resources at NAU, federal, state, and local governments, and the private sector, in support of environmental protection of Native American natural resources. Auberle was one of the first to be involved in the institute, helping to get it off the ground.

It's come a long way since then. Currently the institute has 23 grants or contracts with private foundations, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Energy to offer various programs and technical assistance to Native Americans across the country. Specifically, Auberle is involved in a new five-year project to help tribes clean up sites contaminated by uranium, chemicals, oil and gasoline tanks, or abandoned Department of Defense bombing ranges.

"Our fundamental mission is to help tribes build their capacity to manage their own environmental and natural resources," Auberle says. "In many cases, the tribes simply haven't had the people and equipment and the know-how that it takes to do a good job to look after their environmental affairs."

And while the work Auberle focuses on for the Institute is national, again, he believes in his broader professional life, there's really no place like home. Northern Arizona is in a unique location that not only serves as a teaching and research laboratory, but offers resources that stand to offer economic benefits to the region as well, through wind arms and potential for developing solar-powered facilities.

"There is an awful lot going on in Arizona in terms of developing renewable energy–and it's about time," he says. "We are well-positioned, we just haven't been quite smart enough to take advantage of it so far, but we're doing better."

The development of sustainable energy solutions is one aspect of Auberle's contributions to the field of environmental engineering. He also serves as a member of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Act Advisory Committee. Relied upon as a resource for state-wide and national environmental policy development, his expertise is also valued by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality as a member of the Children's Environmental Health Advisory Committee.

A significant portion of his work lately is focused on his role as a staff member of the Landsward Institute, where he helps to facilitate the communication and collaboration of land managers, researchers, and legislators in order to implement responsible and sustainable land-use policies. The program works to advance the understanding of ecological, social, and economic factors contributing to informed land stewardship in the Southwest.

Auberle's service on behalf of the environment has earned him many accolades including U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Leadership Awards, and the Northern Arizona University President's Award. The spectrum of his interests and work is noteworthy, and valuable for his students. His passion for environmental engineering is brought to a focus in his courses. "One of the things I have learned to do is to incorporate current environmental issues and activities into virtually every class discussion that I have. I open the class with 'are there any environmentally newsworthy things you're aware of since we last met?' That helps all of us to understand that our environmental challenges are constantly changing. There are lots of things going on that challenge today's environmental professionals."

Bill Auberle's goal is to meet those challenges with all of the resources available, from the Navajo Nation to the state capital and back to the classroom.